Monday, 31 October 2011

Chapter 83 Arabs in English

Khalil Gibran, Suheir Hammad, Naif Al Mutawa...

Headliners of a new module called 'Arabs in English'.

Shadia Mansour, Zaha Hadid, Edward Said...

If they learn nothing else, they will learn that they are active participants in the construction of the ever evolving narratives that surround them.

That they are responsible for defining themselves to the world - not the other way round. And that the accessibility of the internet means the only borders that can get in their way are the limits they place on themselves.

Hanan Ashrawi, Lowkey, Randa Abdel Fattah

Each week they learn about the lives, persistence and hard won accomplishments of contemporary Arab writers, poets, singers, rappers, artists, architects, techno geeks, comic book writers, musicians, comedians and more who operate, produce and publish in English.

Suad Amiry, The Axis of Evil comedy tour

People who are talking, and being listened to. People whose voices reverberate. 

Why shouldn't they learn that theirs can too?

Friday, 28 October 2011

Chapter 82 Good for the soul...

Soft white cushions adorn geometric wicker chairs surrounding square wooden tables with glass tops.

Greenery frames the wooded terrace area and soft conversations in Arabic, English and French float through the air.

It's quiet.

An empty road, lined with little trees and Ottoman old buildings runs across the front.

Burnt orange shades protect from the sun and a little breeze skirts from table to table.

Everybody needs a time and a place to recharge.

It's good for the soul.

Sitting in the nicest little cafe in #Ramallah #Paltweets on Twitpic

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Chapter 81 Teaching in the West Bank

School is hectic. Incredibly hectic.

The Palestinian curriculum for English is grammar heavy. Schools that follow this curriculum tend to produce children who can close their eyes and recite every rule governing the usage of the Present Perfect tense but don't have any vocabulary to plug into it. Essentially, they are non speakers.

Not speaking English (or any of the other international languages) is a huge obstacle to anyone who wants to travel, study abroad or be at the top of their industry. Such is the problem for many doctors in the West Bank who don't have a solid grasp of English. It is very difficult for them to keep up with vital developments in medical technology or breakthroughs in treatment methods.

If you want to communicate with the world on any large, meaningful scale you need to speak a language that it can access and understand.

The school I teach at places a lot more focus on English than the other schools, which is one of the reasons parents send their children to us. Students have two hours of English a day focusing on speaking and communicating as well as grammar and writing.

The upside of this is that we can to be as creative and fun with the kids as we want.

The downside is that we have to generate almost all the required material. This means worksheets, factsheets, readings, tests and any other materials that we give out in class.

Full time teachers teach two English classes a day. That's four hours worth of materials for each day of the week. We have standard reading  books but many of us choose to use outside materials or write our own.

If you want to give your students high quality materials, this means hours upon hours of work and research outside of class and school time.

Half a week's worth of developed material for 20 kids

Grammar worksheet - who doesn't love pelicans in party hats?

Song lyrics to our new class song with images to explain new vocabulary

Most of the time our weekends and evenings are spent working.

Prior to to the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993, the West Bank followed Jordan's educational curriculum and Gaza followed Egypt's. Since then the PA has developed its own curriculum.

School leaving exams here are tough. These 'Tawjihi' exams rely on rote memorization and students who fail their 'tawjihi' exams are most likely to find themselves unemployed.

In an area which is already economically depressed, there are few opportunities available even for those who pass with flying colors.

Students are under so much pressure while preparing for these exams that they will literally study during every available waking hour. As a general rule, Palestinian students work hard. They study ferociously for exams and their parents place great emphasis on grades. 

The biggest complaint most teachers have is that they are not given enough support  by the ministry and the books are inadequate. While there is work being done to change this, it's slow moving.

The Palestinian Curriculum English book

Another complaint is the lack of focus given to creativity and analytic thought in the national curriculum. There is very little emphasis placed on teaching students to be creative or problem solve. Such is the extent of the focus on memorization that students are rarely encouraged to actually think. 

Similarly to when I was growing up in Dubai, there is little to no emphasis given to the arts. These are not areas where people are likely to make a living so little effort is put into teaching them or developing talented children within them.

Sports is another issue. Many children find themselves in sports outside of school. However there is little education about nutrition, the importance of a healthy life style or even developments of students' skills in this area.

Needless to say, this is especially lacking for girls, many of whom will never even have the chance to discover whether or not they have a natural talent for it.

There you have it. My long winded, roundabout way of apologizing for not posting for so long.

Hopefully this makes up for it a little bit :)